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Climate conversation: who’s actually invited to share?

Written By Alice Webster

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the Bristol Blue Earth Summit, where I was working as a volunteer. What initially started out as an opportunity to gain some experience in events running and social media work, ended in a complete re-evaluation of the ways in which the UK is currently tackling climate change. In particular, the difficulties that young people face in becoming truly engaged and included in the discourse.

The Blue Earth Summit is, in their own words, a ‘breakthrough business summit redefining our approach to life and work’. It’s a corporate style event hosted by climate friendly business owners and activists for other climate friendly business owners, with the purpose of encouraging corporations to hold themselves responsible for tackling climate change.

They do so through talks and workshops which discuss topics ranging from diversity within eco-activism to ethical business challenges. All of which I found fascinating and empowering.

I felt privileged to have been in a position to witness discussion between some of the most interesting and stimulating climate activists in the country. And to witness such a huge step forward in encouraging those that already hold political and economic power to use that power in exactly the right ways.

However, the problem with events such as the BES lies in exactly that: I was lucky to be there, because almost no other young people or students have access to things like this.

I was one of the only students to attend the massive event. Most attendees ranged from ‘young professionals’ in their 30s to middle aged and older. It was not designed for us. And with tickets selling from £175 for a single day, I think it’s obvious who this event was in fact designed for: those with disposable income, who already have an invested interest in the subject matter.

It became apparent to me, quite quickly, that there is this whole other side of eco-activism which has become almost entirely inaccessible to a large majority of the population. As it stands, students, and other low income demographics, have little to no exposure to these climate events. Despite being able to protest and discuss, without access to information and those in corporate power making decisions, we struggle to include ourselves in the conversation.

So I put these concerns to someone who I thought might serve some insight, and offer some reassurance. I spoke to Tim Smit, founder of The Eden Project and charismatic eco-activist, about his opinions on the accessibility of the event.

Smit, whilst of course recognising the merit of the BES, acknowledges that it’s ‘almost like a therapy group for people who believe the same thing’. And he’s completely right; one glance at the demographic of those attending the event speaks volumes. The event attracts people of a similar socio-economic background, and circulates opinions that are already mutually held. ‘It does feel a bit like an echo chamber. And I think there’s a real danger to that,’ he continued.

In response to this, I discussed with Smit, the effect that this exclusivity has upon those that are excluded,; and how this can be combated.

The extent to which we can enact change through protest is limited. Whilst protests are often the most emotive manifestations of the climate movement, it takes time and momentum to see results.

And this form of action serves another problem. Smit observes that when you engage with this sort of protest, you are immediately labelled an activist, or a radical, and ‘the moment you allow yourself to be called an activist, people have ‘othered’ you’, he continued, ‘that means you’ve got this baggage on your back.’

‘We can’t expect the truth from you because you’re an activist’.

Protesting in public, Extinction Rebellion style, for instance, is often disregarded as a disruptive nuisance in the press, and otherwise.

So there becomes a stratification within the climate movement; a division between the respectable face of the movement, embodied by groups such as the BES, and the messy radical activists taking to the streets in protest. And the dismissal of the latter as trouble-making radicalists is an entirely unfair and frustratingly prejudiced categorisation.

But Smit believes that this can be turned around.

‘I think that’s the signal of the new generation I think is to say, don’t package me as an activist. I’m just telling you that what you’re doing is straight out wrong’,

He encourages young people in particular to ‘learn to become arrogant. No, not arrogant; self assured. Don’t let people patronise you.’ Be steadfast in your views, express them, and reject the dismissive label of a radical.

Most importantly, ‘make sure before you start really getting activist, that you’ve looked at the alternative views to yours. Know the enemy you fight’.

We not only have to battle against the reluctance of our governments, and against capital seeking corporations, but we also have to be wary of rifts within our own movement.

Awareness of these facts is crucial.

Having said all of this, Smit places particular emphasis on remaining hopeful and active, despite the challenges ahead.

‘I think that most people are really really good. Most people are kind, most people are generous. So it just requires moments where we remember that we’ve got duties and responsibilities to each other.’ And if we can just tap into this, the rest will follow.

‘Don’t be depressed. Just be the smart people you are and it’ll be fine. And then you can have a bloody good laugh at the expense of all the people who were so stupid before’.

You’ve heard it from the best: we are not doomed, and we cannot give in to that sentiment.

‘Nature is clever’, Smit says, and so are we.

*Images taken by Alice Webster

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